Last night, on Dateline NBC, Matt Lauer interviewed Michael Schiavo, who spoke publicly for the first time at any length about his wife Terri Schiavo and the battle with her family over her fate. It was not an overly friendly interview, by any means. Lauer never failed to bring up the accusations made against Michael by Terri's family, at every point possible.
Essentially, what it all came down to was that Michael Schiavo was accused of wanting to murder his wife by disconnecting the feeding tube so that she would die and never revive to tell everyone how he tried to kill her in the first place all those years ago. Terri's family was willing to keep her vegetative life going by artificial means for as long as possible, in spite of there being no hope whatsoever for her recovery. In fact, in one instance of family testimony in court, Michael reported that her father said that if she developed gangrene he would be willing to cut off all her limbs to keep her alive.
What made all the family accusations into hideous lies, however, was Michael's obvious, long-term commitment to Terri. He never left her. He continued to care for her right to the end. He took all the money ($750,000) awarded to her from a lawsuit against the doctor who was treating Terri for failing to diagnose her for bulimia and set up a fund to continue her care. He was there at the end when she died. It was obvious he loved her and wanted the best for her.
Michael Schiavo was in charge of the money. He could have found a way to use it to his benefit. He did not. Michael Schiavo could have turned his wife's legal care over to her family, and gotten on with his life. He did not. And yet, he was accused of the most horrible crimes by wanting to disconnect her feeding tube after 15 years, and let her die in peace, according to her own wishes.
What was also striking about the coverage on Dateline NBC was the section which recounted how President Bush and Congress got involved. It was with alacrity. Bush actually cut short his vacation and came immediately back to Washington to deal with the issue.
What a contrast to see his fervent, almost fanatic, response to Terri Schiavo, in comparison to his stuporific, leaden response to hundreds of thousands of Americans threatened by Katrina.
Perhaps the most irritating thing was Matt Lauer's disbelief (it actually felt like he was objecting) that a 22-year old woman could utter words expressing to her husband that she would not want to live like a vegetable (referring to the state her uncle was in at the time.) In fact, it is such a likely thing for people, young or old, to say to their spouses when they see someone in that condition: "Don't let me live like that." Lauer was just trying to find one more issue on which to question Michael Schiavo's veracity. He did his best to take up the family's cause against him.
Throughout the interview, Michael Schiavo's love for Terri and his commitment to her came through. It contrasted starkly with Terri's family's response which was all about their beliefs, about what they wanted. At one point, in court, family members said that were it true that Terri said she would not want to be kept alive under these conditions, they would have done it anyway. This was all about them. Michael was able to keep this about Terri.